How to Lead an Empowered Workforce: Part 2

By: Bonnie Hagemann, CEO, Executive Development Associates, Inc.

In my last column we covered both why we need an empowered workforce and what it looks like in action. Today, we will cover the leader’s role. So, let’s say a leader does all the “right” things for today’s workforce. He or she pushes decisions down to the lowest possible level and provides the information and the boundaries needed for decision-making. Like my client’s question in the opening of Part 1, the leader may find themselves wondering, “So what do I do now? Play golf? Pat myself on the back for empowering others?” Not even close.

The leader’s job is different, but not necessarily easier. It is the leader’s job to set the vision for where the organization, division, department, or team is going. This needs to be a very clear picture of a positive future state. The best visions include input from employees so that they feel that they have a voice and can be an important part of the story of the company.

Next, the leader must establish the strategy to get there. This is simply creating a systematic approach about how to get to the positive future state. It includes an analysis of the gap between the current state and the vision, identifying barriers and solutions to overcome them. It means identifying key stakeholders in the vision and bringing them along, setting goals and actions, and establishing metrics so that success can be measured. The leader must ensure that the workforce is well trained and equipped to do the work and make the decisions necessary and provide the resources as well as clear boundaries when needed.

These are foundational processes, but the ongoing work is more difficult. Now the leader’s role is all about the people. The biggest and hardest job of any leader is to get the right people in the right places. This is not a one and done task, but an ongoing, every day, constant scanning of the talent for capabilities, willingness, attitude, etc. Imagine yourself having a scanner like a metal detector at the airport. As a leader, your scanner must be continuous, as someone who was great yesterday may be failing today.

Having the vision, strategy, and values for the organization already set, the leader then pings for alignment. What I mean by this is that the leader is constantly bouncing the signal from the employee to the vision, strategy and values. If the employee doesn’t align with any of these three, the leader then steps into to teach, guide, and redirect. During times of change the leader must pull the employees through the change by keeping them focused on the vision and strategy, as well as keeping enough tension in the rope that employees do not begin to flounder.

A CEO said to me once that “leaders lay the tracks and managers keep employees on the tracks.” True, but sometimes leaders are also managers and when employees are out of alignment, then the job becomes management (or performance management, to be specific). This is when the leader has compassionate, but very clear, conversations about what is working and what isn’t working in the employee’s performance. Next the leader must ensure that the employee really knows how to do it and if not, provide the employee with the examples or model of top performance. People learn best when they can see correct behavior modeled.

Finally, the toughest job of all and that is moving off poor performers. There is nothing harder or more important for a leader than to move off poor performers. The best leaders are not quick to make this decision, but they aren’t slow either. They do all that they can to help the employee, but if they can see that the employee is not going to make it into top or even acceptable performance, then they move them out. If they don’t, the high-level performers who work with or for the poor performer will leave, so not doing anything is never the right answer. Moving off poor performers doesn’t have to be harsh. Leaders can be kind and helpful in the transition. This is a good strategy most of the time, as the reputation gets out about the compassionate leadership and draws others who are top talent to work in that area. Once the poor performer is removed, then the leader’s job is to again focus on getting the right person in the right place.

The initial question for this article in Part 1 was “what is the leader’s role for an empowered workforce?” The work, as you can see, may look a little different. It may look more like doctors making rounds, as the leader scans the workforce for who is ready to be promoted, who needs more training, etc. It may mean more systematic meetings as well as organic times with staff. The work is not for the thin-skinned. Leadership is hard, but it’s worth it. People need leadership, and if you work to become a great leader, you will impact your employees for their entire lives. We all have people that we can think of who touched us in a way that we will remember throughout life. You can be that for someone. You can make a lasting difference in the lives of those that you lead.

*This article was originally published on

About the Author:

Bonnie Hagemann is the CEO of Executive Development Associates. She has over 16 years of experience successfully leading consulting firms through times of rapid growth and acquisitions as well as economic downturn and downsizing, in addition to 26+ years of experience coaching, educating and developing leaders.

Hagemann is a highly sought Executive Coach for CEOs and C-Suite Leaders, as well as a trusted advisor to members of the board. To date, Hagemann has provided coaching for over 240 leaders, including 14 CEOs. Most of her coaching clients receive a promotion, a better position and/or an increase in salary during or upon completion of the coaching process.

Bonnie has over 40 published works including a book on the shifting workforce demographics and their impact on leadership entitled Decades of Differences. Her newest book, Leading with Vision: The Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce, was published in May 2017.

She leads research initiatives and publishes results in the areas of Trends in Executive Development, Executive Coaching and High Potential Development.